February 12, 2014
Networking has its own rules. You have to know them. Here’s how you should operate.
Just as it does on the grapevine, information travels networks in the form of headlines. “Joe out of work — again.” “Marcia retooling herself.” “Jan in carpet-cleaning business.” “Paul offering new investment vehicles.” “Frank has new job.” These little nuggets of information travel quickly, which is why it’s smart to be proactive by deciding on the message you want to convey and preparing your own headline. Don’t leave it to the group to create a headline for you.
Before you go someplace to network, figure out what a useful headline would be for you. If you’re changing careers from teaching to sales, your headline shouldn’t be “Caroline award-winning teacher.” That locks you into the past. An appropriate headline would be “Caroline interested in sales.” If your situation changes — say, you switch from looking for a job to opening your own business — you would also change your headline. Practice saying your headline before you actually network. Your presentation should be short — twenty seconds maximum.
Look at the long term.
The worst way to start networking is this: you find yourself out of a job, you go to your Facebook page for the first time in months, you decide to post your resume on LinkedIn, and you commit to joining a professional group for a month. Sorry. That simply won’t work. The best time to join a network is when things are going great.
Like investing in the stock market, networking is a long-term activity. You can’t just parachute in and expect results from people who don’t really know you. If you haven’t helped anyone, if you haven’t performed service on behalf of a group, you’re out there on your own. Networking is about giving as well as receiving.
Join LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, as well as networks geared to your field — and participate actively. But don’t allow yourself to remain glued to an electronic screen every moment of the day. The most powerful form of networking occurs face-to-face.
Not virtual groups — actual groups that meet in real rooms. Remember that there are rarely quick hits in networking. Ellen Volpe, president of American Business Associates of Long Island, observes that “networking is not selling.” You’re not looking for an order but, rather, for a relationship.
That’s why it’s off-putting to have a new group member methodically survey the room and target the people who are “must-talks.” Again, networking is not sales. You’re not there to get an order. You’re there to develop relationships over time. These relationships will lead you to other people you ought to know. It may take a while. When you join that organization and network, don’t expect great results right away.
Keep work networks separate from outside networks.
One offers depth; the other provides perspective. You need both — the kind you find in the office and the kind you find in the community. In an outside network you’re bound to get more emotional support. You can’t expect that inside your organization. Even though there’s a lot of rhetoric about teamwork, when a promotion comes up, only one person gets it.
Do your homework before you go to the group.
If I’m going to a general gathering, I make sure that I listen to a news program beforehand. The national and local news is something I should know, anyway, and it’s often a good icebreaker. If I’m having lunch with a judge, I first do a literature search about current judicial matters. This enables me to ask intelligent questions.
Management consultant Mickey Veich points out that networking is more than looking good and passing out business cards. “Asking questions is very important, especially the right ones,” says Veich. He adds that doing your homework, so that you can ask the right questions, can make or break your networking efforts.
There are two types of service. One type is helping out individuals. The other type is helping out the organization. Both will enhance your reputation. Also, by working with other group members, you greatly expand your network. That’s because those members may introduce you to people in their networks. In addition, by volunteering, you may have the opportunity to get to know people you might not normally meet, including members of the group’s inner circle. They could have powerful contacts.
Be a reliable source of information.
Before you tell the unemployed writer in the group that General Widget is hiring two writers, recheck that this is true. If you’re not sure your source is reliable, then admit that. Inaccurate information builds false hopes and damages your own credibility.
Learn to work grapevines.
Every group has a grapevine. You want to get plugged into it. The best way to do that is to be visible in the group. Once they see that you truly are part of the group, they will begin to share information with you. Be cool while you’re waiting to be accepted. Don’t ask too many pointed questions, and do share the information you do have.
Be aware of your image.
In networking, says Lillian Bjorseth, a networking consultant in Chicago, people make up their minds about you in ten seconds. In those ten seconds they’ve made many decisions about your character, success, heritage, economic level, education, sophistication, and trustworthiness.
In short, in ten seconds people respond to your image. You want that image to highlight your strengths and mask your weaknesses. Use your ten seconds well.
Show grace under pressure.
Great leaders and great people are known for their grace under pressure. No matter which crisis they have at the office or at home, they don’t conduct themselves in ways that will upset or annoy others. That’s the way you want to be, even if the boss is berating you or you just lost your job. Loss of control and desperation are unwelcome in any network. You will be perceived as desperate if you frantically go around the room and introduce yourself to massive numbers of people.
Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Citadel Press, from The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life by Robert L. Dilenschneider. Copyright © 2014